Five Joyful Things

Five Joyful Things

On my personal/travel blog, I have a series entitled seven joyful things. Each day I jot down something that brought me joy and I post it on Saturdays. I’m going to being the same series on my teacher blog entitled Five Joyful Things. Each week I will post five joyful moments from my week. I encourage you to reflect on the teaching moments that brought you joy this week.

Find Joy in the Ordinary

MONDAY: A student looked at me and said, “I need you to take down this anchor chart. I’m teaching ___ how to use a word he knows to spell a new word.” I took down the chart and the most beautiful teaching and learning between students occurred.

TUESDAY: A student from last year came up to show me her “who runs the world, girls” shirt at recess. She knows my love for Beyonce.

WEDNESDAY: Reading a powerful book that touches your heart and your students. We read the story We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio.

THURSDAY: Having a hilarious moment with your students where you all end up laughing too hard. Isn’t this what teaching is really about?

FRIDAY: 15 minutes of extra recess just because.

What brought joy to your teacher life this week?

The Worst Teacher I’ve Ever Had

The Worst Teacher I’ve Ever Had
There is something to be said about the best teacher you’ve ever had. These are the teachers that we sit around and reminisce about. We talk about how they still influence us to this day. We also discuss how they made us feel and how much we enjoyed being in his or her class. But… I’m not here to talk about the best teacher I ever had. I am here to talk about the worst teacher I’ve ever had. I feel like we don’t talk about the bad ones enough and we can’t possibly learn the valuable lessons we need to learn from them. Today I logged back onto my teacher Twitter and was scrolling through my feed. I’m getting ready to gear up for back to school and, to quote High School Musical, am trying to “get my head in the game.” The scrolling was lovely until suddenly, the worst teacher I have ever had popped up in a tweet written by a highly respected teaching counsel! I was so angry I started yelling about it to my shocked friend sitting next to me. What is she doing on Twitter? Why is she being retweeted by such a credible organization? What is she up to now? Horrible thoughts of Freshman English started flooding into my memory and I couldn’t handle the rage I was feeling towards this woman. So, you are probably wondering, what made her so bad? What are the lessons I needed to learn from her?

6 Reasons Why

  1. She wasn’t approachable. She was hands down one of the scariest teachers I have ever had. She was unpredictable and unapproachable. When you walked into her class you didn’t know what was going to come at you and it was scary. Once I had to go on a field trip for another class and she almost didn’t allow me to attend. I had to take a quiz early and then, while I was taking the quiz, she stood over my shoulder telling me I should have studied more. She made me feel dumb, worthless and insecure. I will never forget these horrible feelings and this is why I had such a strong reaction to seeing her today.
  2. She played favorites. Right away there were kids that she clicked with. She made it known that she liked these students better and she treated them differently than the rest of us. All of the kids in her class were not on an even playing field. She made sure people knew that. She required one student in period 1 to bring her McDonald’s breakfast every once in a while. On her birthday, which I think was quite early in the school year, she requested Diet Coke. I can’t even tell you the mountain of Diet Coke in the middle of her classroom at the end of the day. If there were camera phones back then, I would have a ridiculous photo to show you. I forgot my Diet Coke at home that day and freaked out all day long because, of course, I had English 7th period. When I entered and she saw I didn’t have what she requested she made a mean joke and sent me to go get her Diet Coke from the vending machine with my own money. Luckily, I had money to buy the Diet Coke or I would have had a mental breakdown.
  3. She made me feel stupid. Freshman English wasn’t the easiest of classes for me. I went from 8th grade English; reading books, filling out worksheets, having pointless literature circle discussions to Freshman English; actually analyzing literature. I didn’t have the skills and strategies I needed to do the work. She didn’t help me to develop these skills, and instead just made me feel stupid for not understanding what to do. To this day I hate Romeo and Juliet and had horrible Freshman English memories come flooding back to me on a recent trip to Verona, Italy. At one point we were divided up into groups to find literature terms. We were each given a scene of the play. My group had a lot of other homework that night and we decided to each take chunks of the scene and then share the terms together. When this teacher found out she intentionally called on students who didn’t do that section to make us feel bad. And then screamed, “It shouldn’t be that hard! Come on!”, while we frantically tried to find the literature terms. Do you know that your brain actually shuts down when you’re afraid? Even trying your hardest you can’t think. This was something that repeatedly happened to me in Freshman English.
  4. She didn’t give second chances. When I had to turn in my first official essay I made a stupid, simple mistake. Somehow, I stapled the pages in the wrong order and didn’t catch it before I turned it in. When I was in period 3 Spanish someone who had just come from English told me that my name was on the chalkboard. All day I was freaking out and trying to figure out why. I struggled all day, do I go in and ask her about it or do I just wait? Will she be mad that I already found out before class? What is going to happen? Is she going to address it in front of the whole class? I decided to wait and stressed out all day long. She pointed out that my name was on the board to the whole class and then told me we would talk about it afterward. When I found out it was because my essay was stapled in the wrong order, I was so relieved. When I found out she couldn’t read it due to this mistake and I was going to get a zero, I was devastated.
  5. She played games. Back to Romeo and Juliet– a truly traumatic play for me. In Act III our homework was to find all of the literature terms in the act. (Do you notice a theme?) I went home and I found all of the ones I could, I Googled it, and wrote down all of the ones I found online… and was still nervous that I didn’t find all of them. I had English last period and all day no one was saying what happened but everyone seemed really upset. I walked in and we were told to stand next to our desks and get out our literature terms. I got mine out and waited, terrified about the game we were about to play. I didn’t know what was coming, but I was shaking. Turns out, she was going to call on each girl in the class (I went to an all girls high school) and each girl was going to say three literature terms that she found in the scene. She would call on each girl in a random order. She started by calling on the smartest girls in the class, I knew they were the smartest because she repeatedly told us. They had it easy. I followed along in my book, marking off the ones that were said. Quickly, I realized that I was going to be one of the last students called on. I started to panic and felt like crying. I waited and waited, and the number of literature terms left in Act III was growing smaller and smaller. When I got called on, I only had two literature terms left – unacceptable. I said the two that weren’t stated yet, feeling very badly for the other girl who was left standing. Then, I said one that was already said hoping that she wouldn’t remember. She remembered. I stood up and turned the pages of my book frantically with her yelling at me again. I couldn’t find a new one. She told me I was worthless and I should sit down. I sat down, so ashamed of this failure, humiliated in front of my friends and I felt their pitied looks in my direction. The girl after me didn’t have any left. She allowed one of the smart girls to stand up and help her out.
  6. Her grading was harsh and unreasonable. You already know that she couldn’t give me a grade on a paper because it was stapled in the wrong order. She also failed most every student, except those favorite few, and when we failed, we failed hard. I frequently would receive 30% on essays I had worked so hard on. At one point in the year, she decided to “be kind” (her words, not mine) and give all students a 50% for at least trying. That means that I was guaranteed an F to start with. And that means that I got a 50% on every essay I turned in. At the end of a quarter, we would sit down and negotiate our grade. One by one, we would go up and have conversations about the letter we deserved on our report cards and the letter we earned in class. I had always earned an F and I said I deserved a D. One time she said maybe I could have earned a C but she felt like a D was better. So, I got straight Ds in Freshman English and was shocked when I went into Sophomore English and got much better grades.
Let’s dig deeper into this trauma with a story a few years out of high school. This teacher didn’t return when I was a junior. The rumors were that she was finally let go, while the smart kids said it was because she wanted to spend time with her children. In college, I heard that she was a special education teacher. Now, I know that she is currently an instructional coach. Anyways, a few years into college I went to Starbucks with my sister. My sister stayed in the car while I ran in to grab the coffee. I was standing in line and looked up to see the back of a strangers head. I knew that I recognized the hair from somewhere and while I was trying to figure out who it was. The person turned around and it was none other than my Freshman English teacher. I literally fight-or-flighted it out of Starbucks. (Fight or flight is when your survival instincts kick in because you are in fear. The parts of your brain for rational thought and other things literally shuts down and survival skills kick in. In a quick response, you either fight the danger or run from the danger.) I don’t remember leaving Starbucks. I do remember getting into the car and my sister asking why I didn’t have any coffee. As I explained that my Freshman English teacher was inside, my whole body was shaking and my heart was racing. I couldn’t drive and had to let my sister drive us to the next Starbucks. Today when I saw the tweet, a million emotions ran through me. I am now a 28-year-old teacher. This teacher humiliated me when I was 14 and 14 years later, I still had an extreme emotional reaction. I broke down in tears several times while writing this. The lessons I learned from her about teaching are the silver lining in a very dark cloud. While I was so angered to hear that she is now teaching other teachers through an instructional coaching role, I really hope she has changed. I read a few of her articles and one was about the importance of apologizing to students. Hopefully, these are genuine articles and she has grown as a teacher in the past 14 years.

6 Lessons Learned

  1. Being approachable to all students matters. That kind smile you use when you greet kids at the door or in the hallway matters. We can always choose kindness as teachers. Relationships matter. Having a positive attitude matters. Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like. Kids don’t learn from teachers they’re afraid of.
  2. Students in your class should be on an even playing field. There should be no favorites and there should definitely be no least favorites. I try really hard within my classroom to make each student feel like the favorite student. Sometimes students just have a feeling that we don’t like them. When this happens we need to reach out and solve it right away. All students should feel loved and cared fro by their teacher.
  3. Students should feel smart. Growth mindset in classrooms matter! When students feel like they can, they can. Productive struggle needs to be honored and appreciated within the classroom. This is where relationships with students come in central again! When we build relationships students feel ok to take risks and when we take risks we grow.
  4. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days! (Hannah Montana anyone?)  In order to create a growth mindset, mistakes need to be embraced and honored within the classroom. If the relationships between the students and teachers are there and the relationships peer to peer are in place the classroom should feel like a safe place to take risks. Having a safe place to take risks is all students need in order to learn and grow.
  5. Games are fun but, playing with students emotions and feelings is never acceptable. Sometimes I want to yell from the rooftops that teachers are role models within the classroom. Taking out feelings on students is never acceptable. Teachers need to create a consistent teacher life and live it out. I’m not saying teachers can’t have bad days or moments but we need to own those. Ironically, my worst teacher ever has a whole article on her website about the importance of an apology. I whole heartedly agree with her. When we mess up as teachers, owning our mistakes and apologizing is so essential.
  6. Grading should be something students understand and are able to grow from. I couldn’t grow when I was given a 50% and sometimes she admittedly didn’t read my work because she “knew it was trash.” We must believe in every single student potential and we must help them elevate their level of work to be the best they can be.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. -Henry Adams

This is true whether the influence is positive or negative. I know that these memories will stay with me for a lifetime. I’m sure the negative experiences you’ve had as a student will stay with you, too. We have a responsibility to the students we teach. Our responsibility is to greet them every day with loving kindness. Our responsibility is to help them work their way through mistakes they make, no matter how big or how small. Our responsibility is to help set them up for success in all areas of life. Our responsibility is to make them feel safe. Our responsibility is to teach every student, every day, not just some of them or some of the time. Teaching is a great responsibility and it isn’t always easy. The kids we teach deserve the best teacher version of ourselves. I’ve learned so many valuable lessons from this painful experience. What have you learned from the worst teacher you’ve ever had? How do these lessons stay with you in the classroom each and every day? I would love to hear from all of you!

Happy Summer Vacation!

Happy Summer Vacation!


This is my very first school year to extend this late into the month of June and I am ready for summer! While I enjoyed having the extra time with my class and not feeling so rushed at the end of the year I am looking forward to summer. As a teacher, I appreciate the time to recharge and renew myself. So here is my teacher to do for Summer Vacation!

This summer many exciting things will be happening. First, the day after school gets out my parents are planning to visit me here in Poland. We are going on what will be a fun, yet hectic, trip around Europe. After that, I return to Krakow and will be getting ready for the next school year. I’m moving from grade 2 to grade 1. I’ve never been a classroom teacher for grade 1. I have done reading and math interventions for struggling readers and mathematicians but I am very excited to become a grade 1 classroom teacher.

I’m also diving back into blogging. It’s been a while since I have been in the teacher blogging world. When I lived in the states I frequently blogged and participated in Twitter chats but moving to Europe changed that up a bit. I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things again. I do miss blogging as a teacher and find that it helps me refine my craft

Top 3 Tips for Setting Up Your Classroom for Functionality and Fun!

Top 3 Tips for Setting Up Your Classroom for Functionality and Fun!


Can we just all take a moment and appreciate the beauty and SPACE that I had in my first classroom! This picture wasn’t even taken from the far corner of the classroom! I just pulled this up and immediately felt jealous of my former self for having taught in such a spacious classroom and not appreciating what I had!! Ugh! Appreciate your spaces teachers!

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A blurry photo of the first time I walked into my very first classroom!

Ok enough feeling sorry for myself! Let’s talk about classroom set up! I remember being PUMPED UP walking into my first classroom. How was I going to set it up? What cute bulletin boards would I create? (Surprise! My district didn’t allow cute bulletin boards. The walls were left blank to fill with anchor charts/student work!) How would I arrange? All of these questions were running through my head. I immediately started moving  stuff around and became overwhelmed because I really had no idea what I was doing! So… through the years I have set up many classrooms and will be setting up a brand new classroom in Poland in the next few weeks! I want to share my life changing (for real) strategies and things I’ve come to learn.

Most people save the best for last but that’s not my style!

  1. The Best Advice I Ever Got! – When I was a first year teacher, moments after walking into that beautiful space my teacher mentor came across the hall to offer advice about classroom setup. It is advice that I still use as a teacher and I feel you will too. Don’t recreate the wheel. Thousands of people have set up classrooms before you. Peek in and be nosey. Walk around your school and peek into other teachers classrooms. Look at how they have things arranged. Feel out their spaces. Use what you like, keep looking for what you need. I will admit that I am like the ultimate stalker when I walk into schools. I check out EVERYTHING. Now that camera phones are cool now (am I aging myself? But did you see that blurry camera phone picture above?) you can even snap photos of what you like and head back to see what will work in your space. Hit up Pinterest. Check out what others have done! Also when talking to teachers at your school find out what is required of your classroom space. Many districts have a list of things classrooms must have (a gathering space, places for anchor charts, a classroom library etc.) Look into this before you get too far along. Rule1
  2. Your Classroom Has to Work For You and Your Students – Enjoy your walk around the school and your walk around pinterest but don’t forget some ideas will not work for you as a teacher and that is OK!! Let me repeat, THAT IS OK! My first year all of the other 2nd grade teachers had their carpet in the library area and so I put mine there. The problem was that we actually sat longer in front of the smartboard. I moved the carpet and we were all much happier. Figure out what will work best for you as a teacher. This is like your second home so you want to be comfortable in your space there. Make Sure Your Space Works For You
  3. This brings me to tip number three!! Nothing is permanent. Everything can be changed! (but not too often! It will drive the little ones insane and therefore drive you insane!) If you love something and later it doesn’t work out CHANGE IT!!Nothing is Permanent

Now A Little To Do List!

Classroom Setup Checklist

Click here for a PDF of the Classroom Setup Checklist

Happy Organizing! Let me know how it goes! Once I move to Poland I will let you in on my classroom setup this year!

Could We Do That Too? Planting an Idea and Waiting For it to Blossom

Could We Do That Too? Planting an Idea and Waiting For it to Blossom


**Originally posted on my old blog 9-9-2015**

*Alternative title for this blog post: How I am Tricking My Class Into Doing Exactly What I Want*

One of the things I learned my first year teaching is that ideas are always better when they are from the students. Each year my goal is to plant the idea and have students suggest what we are actually going to do. I’ve learned a few lessons about it over the years. This year I have been ridiculously successful (seriously!) with this. I started to think, what am I doing differently this year? I don’t have definite answers right now but I have some theories that I am working on.

Maybe it is the kids. Let’s be real. Sometimes when you are successful as a teacher it isn’t about you at all. I would love to pretend that I plan out every amazing moment in my classroom but the reality is that I don’t. Maybe this year I have highly inquisitive, independent and motivated learners. Maybe they take initiative and are just owning their education… maybe.

But for just a minute let’s pretend that I am the mastermind of this situation. Here’s what I’m doing to plant ideas in my student’s minds.

I present them with research. Let’s talk about how I convinced all my students to read for 15 minutes each night, and some even wanted to read for 20! First, I had my own bookbag out in plain sight. My students would stop and look at the log. Some noticed that I have been reading at home a lot but not at school. I shared my reading life with them- my authentic reading life. It isn’t forced or fake.

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First Day of School:  “Maybe some kids might want to read at home. I have plastic bags with everyone’s names on them. (Hmm… I wonder what those would be for?)  If you want to take books home come and grab your bag.”
7 kids take bags home.
Second Day of School: “I noticed so many friends brought home bookbags and read last night. Did you enjoy reading at home? Maybe some more friends might want to take their bookbags home.”
11 kids take bookbags home.
Third Day of School: “I was on the computer and saw this research that I thought I should share with all of you.

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Wow! What I’m noticing is that kids who read at home each night do better in school. What do you think about this?”
Student: I feel like maybe we should read at night.
Class: YEAH!!
16 kids take home bookbags. (That is my whole class!!)

I presented them with real reasons that made sense to them. So now my whole class was reading at home each night BUT I needed them to log their reading. I know there is a lot out there about reading logs and I go back and forth on them all the time. Is it worth it? Does it kill a love of reading? That’s another blog post in itself. I have come to the conclusion that if you use the log in meaningful ways then it is worthwhile. At the start of the year we started logging our read alouds on a class reading log (the same reading log students would be taking home… if they decided it was important). I made a dramatic big deal about logging in and out each time we read.
Finally a student asked me, “why the heck are you doing all that work for a piece of paper?” Wonderful, they noticed and were wondering why! I posed the question back, “I don’t know. What could I use this information for?”
Another student got excited, “You can see that one day we didn’t read very many pages because we had problems sitting at the carpet!” True. We had major issues that day. The same student continued, “Also we missed read aloud on Thursday because we had problems during snack.” Also true! Snack is a major issue in my classroom at the moment. Another student asked, “Well if we learn this much from it, should we log our reading?” I was so excited, “Wow! I like that idea. Let’s find out where reading logs are kept in the classroom and how they work.” BAM! All my kids started logging their reading because they saw a purpose to it. Now did those reading logs all come back? No. But sometimes you have to appreciate what you have and work towards what you want.

I made them wait for it. This year after attending a conference where I heard Lester Laminack talk. He spoke of the importance of building anticipation and making students wait for things. Typically I handed out writer’s notebooks the first day of school. We started writing in them right away. This year I decided not to hand them out right away but to just model with mine in an exaggerated fashion. My writer’s notebook is tabbed with many things. The most important is the tiny topics section where we save ideas for stories. Each time I was reminded of a story, seriously whenever I thought of a story, I loudly commented about turning to the orange tab and writing down a quick jot. Today my class was begging for notebooks. “I just want to write down all of my story ideas!” one of my friends screamed out while we were sitting at the carpet. So we finally got our writers notebooks . The whole class was so excited and had so many tiny topics to jot down right away!

I strongly believe that when students come up with ideas on their own, even when the teacher has planted the seed, they feel empowered as learners. We’ll see how the rest of this year turns out and if we can keep our momentum going. How do you foster independence and ownership in your classrooms?